Program Requirements for Molecular Biology

Applicable only to students admitted during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Molecular Biology

Interdepartmental Program
College of Letters and Science

Graduate Degrees

The Molecular Biology Program offers the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Molecular Biology.

Admissions Requirements

Doctoral Degree


After entering the Molecular Biology program, the student, in consultation with the dissertation research adviser, convenes a four-member doctoral committee comprised of three members of the program faculty, and one faculty member from outside the MB-IDP. This committee advises the student throughout the remainder of graduate study. The doctoral committee administers the University Oral Qualifying Examination and the final oral examination (defense of the dissertation), and meets yearly with the student to evaluate progress and offer suggestions for the direction of study. Upon advancement to candidacy, the doctoral committee is reconstituted, so as to include the dissertation research advisor as the fifth member. An appointed Molecular Biology Program Graduate Adviser and Ph.D. Committee oversee all academic policies and procedures, and are available for consultation at any time.

The Director(s) of each Home Area functions as its Faculty Graduate Advisor.

Major Fields or Subdisciplines

Graduate Programs in Biosciences is a consortium of Ph.D. programs organized into specialized research groups called Home Areas, which serve as the admissions and training units associated with degree-granting programs. Each participating Ph.D. program is now associated with at least one of the new Home Areas in Graduate Programs in Bioscience.

(1) Biochemistry, Biophysics & Structural Biology

(2) Cell & Developmental Biology

(3) Gene Regulation

(4) Immunity, Microbes, & Molecular Pathogenesis

Foreign Language Requirement


Course Requirements

Students are required to enroll full-time in a minimum of 12 units each quarter throughout graduate study. A grade of B or better must be received in all courses. Any grade less than B will require a repeat of the course, or its equivalent, as per the approval of the Molecular Biology Program Home Area Director.

During the first year of graduate study, students are required to complete all of the following:  Molecular Biology 254A, B; Molecular Biology 254C-D or Chem 230B and 230D; Molecular Biology 255 or Biological Chemistry 251 and Molecular Biology 252; one approved elective course of 4-6 units, one research ethics course (MIMG C234 or Chem 203A, or 203B), and three laboratory rotations (one during each ten-week quarter).

MSTP Program students: By the end of the first year of graduate study, students are required to complete all of the following: One quarter of Molecular Biology 254 (two courses), or Chem 230B and 230D; Molecular Biology 255 or Biological Chemistry 251 and Molecular Biology 252; a course on research integrity (Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics C234, or Chem 203B, or Chem C250); an approved statistics or computational biology course.

STAR Program students:  Students complete required or recommended courses by the end of the first year of graduate study.

Teaching Experience

Students are required to gain two quarters of teaching experience through service as teaching assistants in undergraduate courses by the end of the fourth year of graduate study. Students who enter the program through the MSTP and STAR Programs may teach but teaching is not a degree requirement.

Written and Oral Qualifying Examinations

Academic Senate regulations require all doctoral students to complete and pass University written and oral qualifying examinations prior to doctoral advancement to candidacy. Also, under Senate regulations the University oral qualifying examination is open only to the student and appointed members of the doctoral committee. In addition to University requirements, some graduate programs have other pre-candidacy examination requirements. What follows in this section is how students are required to fulfill all of these requirements for this doctoral program.

Written Qualifying Examination

The written qualifying examination must take place by the end of the first year of doctoral study.  In order to be eligible to take the written qualifying examination, students must have achieved at least two passing lab rotation evaluations, as well as at least a B average in all coursework.  Students prepare a written research proposal in the format of an NIH R-21 grant proposal, and with a maximum length of six pages, excluding references.  The topic and hypotheses for the proposal are to be selected by the student.  The topic requires advance approval by the Home Area Director, and may not be a rotation project, or an anticipated dissertation research topic.  The student is free to consult with other individuals in formulating the experimental approach.  This proposal is submitted to the Student Affairs Office. Proposals are graded by a Home Area faculty committee on a pass or no-pass basis. Students who do not pass the examination are permitted one opportunity to pass, which can take place no later than the end of the next quarter.

Oral Qualifying Examination

The University Oral Qualifying Examination must be completed and passed by the end of Fall Quarter of the third year.  Students prepare a written description of the scientific background of their proposed dissertation research project, the specific aims of the project, preliminary findings, and an experimental plan for addressing the specific aims. This dissertation proposal has a maximum length of 10 pages, excluding references, and is submitted to the students’ doctoral committee at least 10 days in advance of the examination.  Exclusive of their doctoral committee members, students are free to consult with their thesis advisor, or other individuals in formulating the proposed research.  The research proposal must be written according to the NIH grant application format, with a maximum length of 10 pages, excluding references. The examination consists of an oral presentation of the proposal by the student to the committee.  The student’s oral presentation and examination are expected to demonstrate: (1) a scholarly understanding of the background of the research proposal; (2) well-designed and testable aims; (3) a critical understanding of the technical applications to be employed in the proposed research; and (4) an understanding of potential experimental outcomes and their interpretation.  This examination is graded Pass, Conditional Pass, or Fail.  If the doctoral committee decides that the examination reflects performance below the expected mastery of graduate-level content, the committee may vote to give the student a Conditional Pass.  At the committee’s discretion, a student who receives Conditional Pass will be required to modify or re-write their research proposal, so as to bring it up to required standards.  In the case of a Conditional Pass, the student will be permitted to seek the advice of their committee in modifying or re-writing the proposal.  Any required re-write or modification will be submitted to, and reviewed by the doctoral committee. The signed Report on the Oral Qualifying Examination & Request for Advancement to Candidacy will be retained in the Graduate Student Affairs Office until the student has satisfied the doctoral committee’s request for revision or re-write.

MSTP and STAR Program students: After passing the written qualifying examinations, students take the University Oral Qualifying Examination in the second year of graduate study.

Advancement to Candidacy

Students are advanced to candidacy upon successful completion of the written and oral qualifying examinations.

Doctoral Dissertation

Every doctoral degree program requires the completion of an approved dissertation that demonstrates the student’s ability to perform original, independent research and constitutes a distinct contribution to knowledge in the principal field of study.

Final Oral Examination (Defense of the Dissertation)

Required for all students in the program.


Normal progress from matriculation to conferral of the degree is sixteen academic quarters (and five summer terms). Students are expected to file their dissertations by the end of the fifth year of graduate study. The maximum Time-to-Degree is eighteen academic quarters (and six summer terms).

MSTP and STAR Program students are expected to file their dissertations by the end of the fourth year of Ph.D. study.



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First Year:

Coursework, laboratory rotations, and choice of faculty adviser should be completed by the end of the first year.

The written qualifying examination should be completed by end of the first year of graduate study.

Second through Fifth Years:

In the second year, students complete the remaining Molecular Biology 298 or equivalent courses.  Students additionally conduct intensive year-round research under the guidance of the permanent research adviser.

The University Oral Qualifying Examination and advancement to candidacy should be completed and passed by the end of the Fall Quarter of the nine academic quarters (third year of graduate study).

Program Participation:

Once in the third year, and once in their fifth year of graduate study, students are required to give a 30-minute presentation of their research project at the Molecular Biology IDP student seminar series, held on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month beginning in Winter Quarter of each academic year.

MSTP and STAR Program students are required to give one 30-minute presentation of their research project at the Molecular Biology IDP student seminar series in the third year of graduate study.

All students also are required to attend a minimum of six of the 12 yearly Molecular Biology Program student seminars and two more of the Molecular Biology Institute annual retreats.

 Annual Committee Meetings:

Beginning in the latter part of the third year or early in the fourth year, and in each year thereafter until completion of the degree program, students are required to meet annually with their doctoral committee.  At each meeting, students give a brief, 30 minute oral presentation of their dissertation research progress to their committee.  The purpose of the meeting is to monitor the student’s progress, identify difficulties that may occur as the student progresses toward successful completion of the dissertation and, if necessary, approve changes in the dissertation project.  The presentation is not an examination.

Annual Progress Report:

At the end of each year all students are required to submit a brief report (a one-page form is provided) of their time-to-degree progress and research activities indicating the principal research undertaken and any important results, research plans for the next year, conferences attended, seminars given, and publications appearing or manuscripts in preparation.

Termination of Graduate Study and Appeal of Termination

University Policy

A student who fails to meet the above requirements may be recommended for termination of graduate study. A graduate student may be disqualified from continuing in the graduate program for a variety of reasons. The most common is failure to maintain the minimum cumulative grade point average (3.00) required by the Academic Senate to remain in good standing (some programs require a higher grade point average). Other examples include failure of examinations, lack of timely progress toward the degree and poor performance in core courses. Probationary students (those with cumulative grade point averages below 3.00) are subject to immediate dismissal upon the recommendation of their department. University guidelines governing termination of graduate students, including the appeal procedure, are outlined in Standards and Procedures for Graduate Study at UCLA.

Special Departmental or Program Policy

A recommendation for termination is made by the chair of the interdepartmental degree committee, after consultation with the student and the student’s adviser (or the student’s guidance committee). In addition to the standard reasons outlined above, a student may be recommended for termination for failure to participate in required elements of the program, or for unsatisfactory performance. Failure to participate in required elements of the program includes laboratory rotations, student seminar presentations, and annual progress report. Unsatisfactory performance includes failure to pass the departmental written qualifying examination, failure to maintain a rotation or thesis adviser, or failure to complete the doctoral dissertation within eighteen terms of academic residence (see Time-to-degree).

A student may appeal a recommendation for termination to the entire interdepartmental degree committee. In this process, the opinions of other interested faculty members are considered by the committee.